In the other room, my husband pores over the pieces of his soon-to-be masterpiece: a pod-racing scene from Star Wars: Episode I – Phantom Menace. That’s right. Not only do I have to deal with a Phantom Menace apologist, but I’m also quarantined with a puzzler—as in, one who does jigsaw puzzles. The worst kind of puzzles.
Beyond the activity itself being utterly mindless and dull, the jigsaw puzzle is, to put it simply, a rude house guest. It demands all of the little surface space we have while being so damn precious about its own existence. Don’t you dare spill your fourth glass of wine near the puzzle! Those stupid little cardboard cut-outs can’t cope with a drop of moisture or they’ll ruin their shape. And call 911—a piece is missing! Just when you get into the flow of reading a real book after not being able to concentrate for months, you’re ordered to the frontlines to search for the missing soldier. (It’s always under the couch.) And when the project is complete—ugh—you must join the obligatory parade to congratulate the puzzler on accomplishing something that, when you think about it, was already complete, then cut into pieces solely for their entertainment.
I don’t care if the puzzle is four pieces or 40,000. I will never be impressed that you, an adult, completed a puzzle. “It took me 63 hours!” The puzzler says, as if they just stormed the beaches of Normandy. The thing is, if you spend enough time with it, you will complete the puzzle. I’m sure if you placed a monkey in front of a 700-piecer and gave them enough time, they’d be able to do it too.
And yet, I have no one to sympathize with me. Because in the last few months, everyone has become a puzzler. (People do seem to feel bad in regard to the Phantom Menace thing, thankfully.)
I knew folks dabbled in the occasional jigsaw puzzle for what I thought was the spectacle of it—a “Look at me! I’m a modern-day Davy Crockett, who left my phone in the other room, turned off the TV and now I’m doing this cardboard showpiece to prove it!” And I was aware of the couples that like to “do puzzles.” And the couples who like to “do puzzles” with other couples, even. (Gross.) But I never expected to find it in my own circle…let alone in my own house.
My husband in one room, smiling ear-to-ear over the fact that he finished the edges; my mother in another, Googling “felt puzzle mats,” a contraption that rolls up your work-in-progress or saves your completed (63 hours) of puzzling. It’s like the zombie apocalypse is here, and it’s turning us into monsters who just can’t get enough of placing little pieces together to recreate a still photo from a George Lucas catastrophe. (You know, arguably.)
I’m no dummy—I get that in the context of the pandemic, people are probably craving the mindless accomplishment of it all. That’s how I feel about cooking, except when I've finished a recipe, I can actually consume it to help me survive another day. There’s just no point to puzzles. No utility. Maybe it’s some messed up, Puritan ethic bug deeply rooted in my bones that makes it impossible to just enjoy something without it providing anything of use—whether it’s knowledge or ATP.
Do I wish I was a little more zen about all of this? Sure. But while I meditate on that, no, thank you, I will not be taking part in an activity that serves no purpose beyond physically demonstrating the passage of time. I’m busy writing about why I hate puzzles. It’s taken me 63 hours, and I bet if a monkey typed random keys into a typewriter over the same amount of time, he’d accomplish about the same.